Director – James Mangold – 2022 – US / UK – Cert. 12a – 154m
In the late 1960s, the newly-retired archaeologist is dragged by his goddaughter into a globetrotting adventure involving Nazis and ancient artefacts – out in UK cinemas on Wednesday, June 28th
In 1945 in Europe, at the close of the Second World War, whilst fighting Nazis led by archaeologist Dr. Voller (Mads Mikkelsen) both in a castle and on a train, archaeologists Henry Jones (Harrison Ford) and Basil Shaw (Toby Jones) gain possession of an ancient artefact, the Archimedes Dial aka the Antekythera mechanism.
Over two decades later in 1969 in New York, on the day of his retirement from academia, Jones is approached by his late colleague’s daughter – his goddaughter – Helena Shaw (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) who, following her research into her father’s obsession with the artefact, believes she knows the location of one half of the dial, broken into two separate pieces by its maker Archimedes to prevent it falling into unsuitable hands.
She’s wrong though: Jones has it, although possibly not for long as a cabal of Dr. Voller plus Nazis including the trigger-happy Klaber (Boyd Holbrook), the 7’2 Hauke (Olivier Richters) and a CIA agent Mason (Shaunette Renée Wilson) turn up to regain its possession.
After a hair-raising pursuit through the streets of New York by way of the US moon landing celebrations and an anti-draft demo, skilled con artist Helena escapes with the dial. Jones tracks her to Tangier, where she is attempting to sell it to the highest bidder when Voller and Nazis once again turn up to grab it. Also in pursuit of Helena at this point with a carload of thugs is a local she previously promised to marry.
Jones and Helena, with her smart, street thief child accomplice Teddy (Ethann Bergua-Isidore) in tow, join the boat of his old friend Renaldo (Antonio Banderas) to head for a shipwreck dive site in the Mediterranean where they believe the other half of the dial to be, hotly pursued by Voller and Nazis, then (with the Nazis having captured Teddy) to Archimedes’ burial cave.
The Nazis eventually gain both parts of the dial, which identifies portals to the past, through which they intend to travel to Germany in 1939 where Voller intends to rectify the mistakes Hitler made which prevented the Third Reich successfully coming to pass. However, lacking modern knowledge of continental drift (!), calculations on Archimedes’ device prove inaccurate and Voller plus Nazis, with Jones, Helena and Teddy in hot pursuit, end up in a different time and place from the one they expected…
Admirers of the original Indiana Jones movie, the differently titled Raiders Of The Lost Ark (Steven Spielberg, 1981), will note that whilst the name of that film’s feisty, female lead Karen Allen looms large on the credits here, she gets no mention in the above synopsis. For the purposes of this review, I will simply say that when you get to the point where she appears in the film, it’s worth the wait.
It’s also worthy of note that this fifth entry is the first not to be helmed by Steven Spielberg, whose stylistic stamp was evident on the previous four movies. Nevertheless, it feels like an Indiana Jones movie, so much so that if you were to watch a double bill of Raiders Of The Lost Ark followed by this new entry you’d be hard-pressed to like one more than the other.
The big difference is that star Harrison Ford, 39 when he made Raiders, has inevitably aged with each subsequent Indiana Jones movie and was 79 when he shot this one. Rather than try and make the movie as if the actor was still the same age as in the original (which feels like the approach of the previous three sequels and increases the embarrassment factor with each movie), this one is set two and a half decades later when the character is considerably older.
That still leaves a bravura opening action sequence set in 1945, in which Indy must escape dangling from a hangman’s noose as a bomb drops through several storeys of a castle, destroying the floor immediately beneath him, before battling assorted Nazis inside and atop a speeding train containing plundered treasures and artefacts.
You don’t notice it at the time, because you’ve come to the movie to see Indiana Jones, you know what he looks like and here he is in action. However, when he’s then awakened in his New York apartment by the sound of the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour blaring out from a party downstairs, he appears considerably older in line with that song’s 1967 release date.
For the earlier sequence, Ford has been de-aged by effects supervisor Andrew Whitehurst and his crew at Industrial Light And Magic, who had access to all the footage shot for the previous four movies as well as Ford’s new performance for this film, and the trick is seamless.
The film delivers a further arresting series of action set pieces – among them, a deep dive to a shipwreck with Nazis cutting submerged divers’ air lines above the water surface and hungry, four foot long eels below it, a cave tunnel crawling with large centipedes and spiders, Teddy learning to fly a plane on the job, a spectacular sea and land battle reached via a portal, and even the appearance of Archimedes (Nasser Memarzia) thanks to the time travel element of the plot.
In between, as the story moves locations from A to B to C, the protagonists’ CGI plane trails a red line as it crosses the map in line with earlier movies in the franchise, albeit with more up-to-date effects minutiae.
Phoebe Waller-Bridge proves an inspired choice for a sidekick, one who is not exactly an ally and has the potential to outwit our hero at any and all points in the narrative. The screenplay has the good sense not to try and turn her into Jones’ love interest (she would be about a third his age) and instead simply make her a companion.
Bergua-Isidore’s resourceful Teddy is a joy, as opposed to the irritating child character he might so easily have been. Mikkelsen is likewise arresting as the villain.
A special mention should go to Shaunette Renée Wilson for her CIA agent, who looks like she has wandered in from the likes of BlacKkKlansman (Spike Lee, 2018) and Judas And The Black Messiah (Shaka King, 2021) and disappears from the narrative far too soon.
This fifth entry in the Indiana Jones canon might so easily have delivered a pointless, tired outing for a franchise long overdue for retirement. Yet Harrison Ford always alternated his Indy role between a twinkle in his eye and a sense of world-weariness, and with the actor getting on in years, the film allows him to explore the issue of ageing, of having had enough and simply wishing to pass away having achieved his life’s goals.
Mangold on the evidence here is the perfect director to facilitate this. He has achieved the impossible: a rip-roaring yarn with the franchise’s elderly star which is not only at least as good as the original Raiders, if not better, but also, without ever compromising what the Indiana Jones franchise is about, allows this final film to explore the experience of getting old and nearing death. Highly recommended.
Indiana Jones And The Dial Of Destiny is out in cinemas in the UK on Wednesday, June 28th.
Trailer (NB The Rolling Stones’ Sympathy For The Devil, used effectively here, does not appear in the movie):